Members of Connor Diocesan Council and staff at Church of Ireland House gathered for a farewell lunch for Bishop Alan Harper on Thursday February 1 – his last day as Bishop of Connor.
It was a happy occasion as the achievements of the past five years under Bishop Harper’s leadership were recalled, but there was sadness too as the Bishop prepared to leave the diocese where he has served for most of his ministry to date.
Diocesan Secretary, Mr Neill Wilson, who revealed he has attended 66 diocesan synods and listened to two full days of presidential addresses in that time, told guests: “We have experienced from the Bishop patience in dealing with the many difficulties he has had to address. He has brought with him understanding of administration, parochial problems and different individuals and in dealing with these he has shown a great sense of humour.”
The latter, Mr Wilson commented, was indicated by the Bishop’s ardent support for West Bromwich Albion FC!
Mr Wilson said it had been a privilege to work with Bishop Harper and to have been taken into his confidence, and on behalf of diocesan staff presented the Bishop with a book, a Connor plaque and a West Brom shirt with the markings Primate and 07 on the back – all gifts, but particularly the shirt, brought a huge smile to the Bishop’s face.
The Dean of Connor, Dean John Bond, spoke on behalf of clergy on the Diocesan Council. “You will be seriously missed because you have made a huge impact on all our lives,” he said. “You have committed yourself wholeheartedly to the work of God, and you have encouraged and guided the development of this diocese both as Archdeacon and as Bishop.
“You will be remembered as a caring, warm hearted and friendly bishop with a wonderful sense of humour who met the challenges and demands of your office with care, concern, courage, understanding and dignity.”
Thanking the Bishop and his wife Helen for their generous hospitality over the years, Dean Bond added: “We have been blessed and privileged to have had you as our bishop but we feel a real sense of pride that our man in Connor has been chosen as Primate.” The Dean presented a gift on behalf of clergy on the Diocesan Council.
Speaking for members of laity on the Council, honorary lay secretary Ken Gibson recalled the train trip to Coleraine to launch the Building for Generations (BFG) strategy.
“I remember the speech you made in Coleraine – you made it with passion, commitment, enthusiasm and a desire to see God’s work in this place move forward,” Mr Gibson told Bishop Harper.
Commending the House of Bishop’s on their appointment of the new Primate, Mr Gibson said: “We will miss you, you wisdom and your counsel. Your commitment and hard work made it difficult for you to have time for a break or to stand back. We would encourage you to do that as you experience even greater responsibility.”
Mr Gibson presented the Bishop with a lamp from laity on the council, and Bishop Harper’s secretary, Mrs Rosemary Patterson, presented a bouquet of flowers to Mrs Harper.
Clearly moved by all the tributes, Bishop Harper said his colleagues, the Diocesan Council and diocesan staff all meant a great deal to him. In particular he thanked his secretary Rosemary, and Diocesan Secretary Mr Wilson. “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with them and for them,” he said.
The bishop outlined his priorities for his new role, and looked back to BFG, his vision for the future.
“It is about enabling lay people to participate more and helping clergy to acquire new skills. It has been an immense privilege to be part of that. Whoever follows me in this office will have a dynamic diocesan team and a forward-looking Diocesan Council,” the Bishop said.
He went on: “This diocese means the world to me and I will find it hard to leave. Thank you for your kindness, your care, friendship and fellowship, all the support and concern you have given me, but mostly I thank you for remaining here to continue to be the people of Connor in a diocese that I will always love wherever I may be.”
More photographs of the Bishop's farewell lunch can be viewed by clicking on the Photo Gallery link on our welcome page and entering the Farewell Lunch for Bishop gallery.
© Copyright The Church of Ireland Diocese of Connor 2021